Instagrams from within North Korea lift the veil, but only slightly

February 26, 2013

A sign welcoming nuclear test scientists in Pyongyang. (Jean H. Lee)

This photo by AP Korean bureau chief Jean H. Lee has rocketed around the Internet this week, and for good reason. It's one of the first Instagrams posted since North Korea enabled 3G access for foreigners this week.

Until just a few weeks ago, foreigners could not even bring their own phones into the country — they had to give them up at customs. The recent changes will allow foreigners to not only use their own cellphones (with North Korean SIM cards, of course) but also to Instagram, tweet and Skype from one of the world’s most isolated countries. And they are:

 

 

The new 3G network will have little impact on North Koreans, who (for the most part) are not allowed Internet access now.

Despite what you might have heard on social media today, Lee’s Instagrams aren’t actually the “first” from North Korea. David Guttenfelder, the AP’s chief Asia photographer, has taken dozens of stunning Instagrams in North Korea, as have a number of travelers.

The confusion is a reminder that North Korea’s information isolation is more complicated than it sometimes seems. It was porous even before the government allowed 3G — AP told Fast Company that Guttenfelder uploaded his photos using a mobile hotspot — but it generally remains quite closed, especially to its own citizens.

Caitlin Dewey runs The Intersect blog, writing about digital and Internet culture. Before joining the Post, she was an associate online editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.
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Max Fisher · February 26, 2013